Kevin Porter Jr. and Darius Garland shine bright in big moments for Cavaliers

The youngsters led the Cavs to a comeback win over the Heat on Monday night

James Rapien
February 25, 2020 - 12:27 am
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CLEVELAND, OH — The Cavaliers rallied past the Heat on Monday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

On the surface, the win doesn’t mean much. The Cavs improved to 16-41 on the season and 2-1 under head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. 

Even with the win, the Cavaliers have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. This wasn’t about the past or the present — it was about the future.

The fate of Cavaliers basketball rests with the young players on the roster. Rookies like Kevin Porter Jr. and Darius Garland have to develop if this organization is going to have any chance of turning a corner and becoming relevant in the post-LeBron James era.    

That young core took a step forward on Monday night.

Porter was magnificent. The 6’4” guard was aggressive from the start. He slashed his way past Miami defenders, made 3-point shots and helped keep the Cavs in the game, despite their offensive struggles.

Porter scored a team-high 15 points through three quarters. The Cavaliers entered the fourth trailing by 19 (99-80). They could’ve mailed it in, went through the motions and hit the showers. That’s what most teams would do in their position.

Instead, the rookies helped ignite a comeback for the ages. First, Porter found Larry Nance Jr. for a layup. Then, his defensive rebound led to two Kevin Love made free throws. Garland grabbed a defensive rebound and aggressively pushed the ball in transition, finding a wide-open Tristan Thompson for another easy layup.

Suddenly, the young Cavs were showing some life and it was all because of two rookies that stayed aggressive despite the score.

It was just the beginning of what will go down as one of the Cavaliers’ best moments of the year.

Later in the quarter, Garland made two free throws to cut the deficit to seven. The Cavs got another stop and Garland found a cutting Porter, who slashed down the lane to cut Miami’s lead to five.

The Heat called another timeout, but it was too late. Porter was in the zone. He didn’t even know what was about to take place.

Porter scored eight straight points on three jump shots. He made back-to-back 3-pointers that gave the Cavaliers their first lead of the game at 107-104.

Garland made a clutch basket down the stretch, but the Cavs couldn’t end it in regulation. The young guns would be forced to play another five minutes in overtime.

The Cavaliers trailed by one (118-117) with less than two minutes remaining when the rookies put the game away. First, Love found Porter for a two-handed dunk that gave the Cavs the lead for good. After a stop on defense, Garland used a crafty pump fake that created enough room to shoot a short jumper that gave the Cavs a 3-point advantage.

The Cavaliers went on to win for a variety of reasons. Players like Larry Nance Jr., Thompson and Love played well down the stretch. The veterans did their part, but the youngsters started and ended a rally that gave everyone a glimpse of what the future could look like in Cleveland.

“Me and D.G. (Garland), since Day One, we’ve been talking about our chemistry and growing together, building an empire,” Porter said after the game. “That’s definitely going to help us. We just have to get more experience.”

The Cavaliers outscored the Heat 45-20 in the fourth quarter and overtime. They leaned on two rookies in big moments. Both kids delivered against an extremely tough and physical Miami team.

Some believe the Heat are legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. Porter and Garland went at them all night long, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime. They could’ve gone through the motions in the final minutes. Instead, they rallied. They showed fight.

“Our expectations are that you play that way and you get after it, you compete, you play with a toughness and a physicality,” Bickerstaff said after the game. “And both physically and mentally where you’re getting after it and you’re competing and you’re pulling for your teammates.”

Porter finished with a career-high 30 points and eight rebounds. Garland had 14 points, five rebounds and seven assists. 

The Cavs aren’t going to the playoffs. They aren’t fighting for a better seed or contending for a championship.

These Cavaliers are all about the future. What can the young players do and learn now to help the organization get back to relevance?

They need to develop and grow in hopes that they can reach their potential in Cleveland. Monday was a giant step in the right direction.

“You can play a perfect game, but if you don’t close it at the end it don’t matter,” Porter said. "We was extremely happy that we was able to close this comeback because we came back a lot of times this season and we wasn’t able to close a majority of them. This one was definitely meaningful for growth in our future.”